Thursday, 25 August 2016

Class channels Buffy in latest Doctor Who spin-off

Empire magazine interviewed Class showrunner Patrick Ness and he talks about the genesis of the latest Doctor Who spin-off: “Coal Hill has existed in Doctor Who since literally episode one. The Doctor’s granddaughter went there. So we thought, ‘All that time activity at the school, has that caused any problems?’ Well, what do you know, it has!”

Ness likens the new series to Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Adults watch that, because it’s a great show, but the POV and the agency are all teenage, and that’s what we want to do with Class. It needs to be from the point of view of the sixth-formers – but that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a ‘young show’.”

“We’re not telling stories of the ‘chosen ones’,” Ness continues. “It’s happenstance that puts these people [at the centre of things]. What if your timing is just weird and things happen to you? How do you deal with it? I’m interested in real consequences. The Doctor is always exciting, but he never stays. He goes off on the next adventure. What happens to real people?”

The spin-off seemingly shares DNA with another Doctor Who spin-off. Torchwood. However, Jack Harness' adventures were darker in tone and dealt with more mature adult themes.

Class premieres this October on BBC One and BBC Three. BBC America will syndicate the new series.

Looking forward to the new spin-off series? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Doctor Who panel at New York Comic Con

Doctor Who fans will have to wait until October's New York Comic Con for a first look at the upcoming Christmas special, series 10 and latest spin-off Class.

Peter Capaldi will be joined onstage at the Doctor Who panel by new co-star Pearl Mackie, who plays new companion Bill, outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat and executive producer Brian Minchin. Convention attendees should expect hints about series 10, which is currently in production.

The Class panel will include stars Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins and Vivian Oprah, joined by writer and creator Patrick Ness. The new spin-off series is set in Shoreditch, London. Coal Hill School has been an intrinsic part of the fabric of Doctor Who since An Unearthly Child cast its spell in November 1963.

Former Doctor Who Matt Smith and companion Karen Gillan will also be in attendance.

If you're attending New York Comic Con and would like to write a future feature, please get in contact.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Stranger Things is a spellbinding homage to the 1980s!

Stranger Things from director brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, now streaming on Netflix, is a mini-series gem fashioned from the cinematic touchstones of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, and the pages of supernatural author Stephen King.

With a side order of John Hughes, James Cameron and David Cronenberg for good measure. This is a delicious buffet served with the utmost care for film geeks.

The Netflix series premiered during Star Wars Celebration Europe and the stars aligned...

The tale begins during a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Shortly thereafter a child goes missing and there's a monster prowling the woods of small-town Indiana in 1983.

Not since JJ Abrams' Super 8 have I been so enthralled by a Nancy Drew mystery peopled by characters that would have been my childhood friends growing up in suburbia.

A superlative young cast, ably supported by teenage crush Winona Ryder, David Harbour and Matthew Modine, and otherworldly cinematography that perfectly distills the zeitgeist of 1980s suburban Americana; tapping into our nostalgia-heavy era where Star Wars and Ghostbusters once again reign supreme on the silver screen, and the NES is making a comeback this holiday season.

The Guardian asked chief executive Reed Hastings if Netflix would commission another series in the wake of critical success.

He said: “Because we don’t have advertising we are under a whole different model to not compare all the shows and rank other shows, because it kind of doesn’t matter what everybody loves the most, it matters what you or I love most.

“You can get approximations ... if you look on IMDB the most popular TV show right now it’s Stranger Things, so that’s a reasonable proxy. It’s not that there’s no data, just that we don’t give out our data.”

Whilst we wait for confirmation of a sequel series. Netflix has announced the evocative synth soundtrack will be made available soon.

Have you seen Stranger Things? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Bourne director oversees Star Wars spin-off Rogue One

Star Wars has a storied history of troubled shoots and director Gareth Edwards' upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is no exception.

The director was looking noticeably ashen-faced during the Rogue One panel at Star Wars Celebration Europe. A panel infamous for a spoiler, showing a sizzle reel three times in a row and for not releasing a new trailer outside the event.

Now news has emerged, from THR, that The Bourne Legacy director Tony Gilroy is purportedly heavily involved with postproduction on the first Star Wars spin-off movie ahead of its December release. However, it's a creative collaboration that goes back to Edwards' Godzilla and Gilroy has a proven track record for fixing things.

A source is cited as saying: "There are not two separate editing rooms; they are all in there with their ideas. Tony’s a strong force, but they're all working together.”

The 5-week reshoots, supposedly to inject humour into a gritty war movie, included a new ending at the behest of Disney executives.

Still excited for Rogue One? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Disney is rebooting The Rocketeer

The Rocketeer, which channelled the exploits of Indiana Jones in 1991, is the latest franchise reboot from Disney in the wake of Star Wars. Entitled The Rocketeers, the new movie will be produced by Clippers star Blake Griffin and Brigham Taylor.

The original was a rollicking, rollercoaster ride and boasted a memorable main theme by the late Hollywood film composer James Horner.

The Rocketeer's roots are firmly founded in Saturday morning serial King of the Rocket Men. A series I fondly recall seeing during school summer holiday reruns in the 1980s and reenacting scenes using Star Wars action figures, vehicles and playsets.

Andrew Lewin, fellow blogger and collaborator, has never seen The Rocketeer! So, he bravely dons a jet pack and takes to the skies in search of adventure and romance…

Guest post by Andrew Lewin

News this week that Disney is developing a sequel to its 1991 cult classic The Rocketeer reminded me that in 25 years I still hadn’t got around to watching the original. That’s despite the fact that it was adapted from a comic book which in turn was based on a 1940s Saturday morning serial called King of the Rocket Men that I remember absolutely loving when it was rerun on BBC television during the school summer holidays of the 1970s and 80s.

At the time of the film’s release The Rocketeer was something of a disappointment, opening to mixed reviews and lukewarm box office returns. However it certainly seems to have found its place in the home entertainment market and has since picked up a lot of enthusiastic fans who clearly hold the movie close to their hearts. Unfortunately from what I can tell it’s a case of ‘you had to be there to get it’, because coming to this movie so late in the day I have to say that I found myself almost entirely resistant to its supposed charms.

The main problem with the film for me is that it shares a failing common to many 1980s and 1990s movie adaptations of period pulp comic books such as The Phantom and Dick Tracy in that it thinks it has to indulge in a self-mocking, self-aware tongue-in-cheek lampoon approach to the original material. There’s not a single scene in the entire movie that isn’t being sent up in some way, from the out-sized performances to the cheesy script to the pointless ‘cameos’ from real personalities of the 1930s like Clark Gable, Howard Hughes and WC Fields.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around racing pilot Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) who finds an experimental jet pack that has been stashed in his plane by a Nazi secret agent who has in turn stolen it from Hughes. After Secord uses the jet pack to save a friend at an air show display, he and his mechanic Peevy (Alan Arkin) find themselves under threat from all sides – Nazis, gangsters and the FBI – and it’s no time at all until the bad guys kidnap Secord’s wannabe-actress girlfriend Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly) in order to force him to hand over the jet pack. Jenny meanwhile has been busy getting seduced by Hollywood star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton), who is not all that he seems.

If that sounds nice and thrilling, then unfortunately the slow pace of the film allied to the prevailing slapstick and romantic comedy tone mean that very little of this actually excites. Campbell has since proven himself to be a highly intelligent actor so clearly his portrayal of Secord as an all-American lunkhead with a handsome face but without a single intelligent thought in his head is all part of the film’s intended vision. Most of the collateral damage and death that ensues after Secord’s purloining of the jet pack is on his head; he’s supposed to be endearing but I found him simply frustrating

The climax of the film set on board a German airship comes close to proving the much-needed thrills, but even this is undercut by the way that the main villain’s ultimate demise is turned into a sight gag concerning the Hollywood sign. Meanwhile the film’s one real attempt at a truly dangerous presence – giant henchman Lothar (Tiny Ron) – is presented as a pantomime figure distractingly decked out with prosthetics to make him resemble original 1930s actor Rondo Hatton. To be honest, this only succeeded in making me feel offended on Hatton’s behalf.

The actual scenes of the Rocketeer in flight were probably rather thrilling in their day but have dated poorly and now seem like rather obvious optical effects. Moreover there are far too few of them, which is a shame as they are the most promising part of the film much as they were in King of the Rocket Men – in which if my (golden) memories are accurate the FX were actually more authentic-looking. You sense that a modern remake would make far better use of the airborne action along the same lines the first Iron Man film did of Tony Stark’s initial test flights. Unfortunately in The Rocketeer it seems that Secord’s capabilities of flying with the jet pack vary from scene to scene and even shot to shot according to an inconsistent script by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo.

Overall the film is too busy indulging itself evoking its 1930s setting, and it’s all very averagely directed by Joe Johnston in what is after all only his second film in charge; he would go on to do much better work in the likes of Jumanji, Jurassic Park III and more recently Captain America: The First Avenger. In this case, whether it’s Johnston or the studio at fault, the tone simply misses the target: it aspires to evoke Indiana Jones but doesn’t come anywhere near the same state let alone zip code. Even the music by James Horner feels second rate, dating from a time when Horner was still struggling to move beyond the same riffs and orchestrations that he’d been overusing for a decade in films such as Battle Beyond the Stars, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Krull and Cocoon.

Overall then I have to say I side with the original reviews which found the film tepid and unremarkable. It’s still sufficiently superficially charming for a suitably young audience even today, and I can certainly understand how someone who saw this in 1991 at an impressionable age would now feel dewy-eyed about it as a grown up in 2016, but unfortunately clearly neither grouping includes me. That said, a little credit where it’s due: The Rocketeer’s humour, simple naivety, earnest likeability and lightness of touch is without doubt vastly preferable to today’s non-stop diet of dark, ponderous, thundering, headache-inducing superhero epics that we’re being pummelled with on a near-weekly basis.

In any case I wish the new film/sequel/reboot the best of luck in being the sort of movie that long-time fans of The Rocketeer have always hoped for. Even better, perhaps it will be a movie that I can get fully on-board with as well. In which case maybe – just maybe – in years to come I might be able to revisit this film with more satisfaction and enjoyment and hence revise my opinions and my rating accordingly.

**1/2 out of *****

This review originally appeared on Taking the Short View.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Doctor Who's Tom Baker joins Star Wars Rebels

Amid the excitement of Star Wars Celebration Europe, a former Doctor Who joined the cast of a galaxy far, far away... Tom Baker. My Doctor.

Baker plays the mysterious Bendu, neither Sith nor Jedi, in Star Wars Rebels S3 and you can see his new character in this trailer, which premiered during Star Wars Celebration Europe.

Fans may recall the term 'Jedi Bendu' appeared in early drafts of Star Wars.

Series showrunner Dave Filoni told a packed audience, at the ExCeL, that when he wrote this character, he ‘knew’ it had to be Tom Baker to voice it! As a child Filoni was a fan of The Fourth Doctor, describing Tom as "bigger than life."

"He’s so unique in everything he does," Filoni told host Warwick Davis, adding that Bendu is "a different kind of Force character/creature than we’ve had before," and will make a "big difference" to the hit Disney XD series.

This isn't the first time a Doctor Who actor has appeared in George Lucas' space opera. David Tennant won an Emmy for his role in Filoni's earlier spin-off The Clone Wars.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Cause for Star Wars Celebration

Within the blink of a bleary-eye the dizzying 3-day event for Star Wars fans was over and I was left in joyful delirium after meeting two childhood heroes: Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa.

Star Wars Celebration Europe was, easily, the best convention I've attended in my lifetime. Filled with fellow fans, of all ages from around the world, having a blast within an 'inclusive environment' (to quote Danie). Strangers united by George Lucas' creation.

A photo posted by John Hood (@johnhood) on

Star Wars Celebration Europe began inauspiciously with the news An Hour With Mark Hamill was filled to capacity, despite arriving 3-hours earlier with a medical badge, amidst controversy surrounding the issuing of wristbands to ticket holders who had paid months in advance. However, it went into hyperdrive with myriad cosplayers (was that Daisy Ridley undercover as Rey?) and a show-stopping FX masterclass from ILM's John Knoll and Doug Chiang, which looked back at the original and prequel trilogies, The Force Awakens and included tantalising Rogue One teasers.

A photo posted by John Hood (@johnhood) on

There were possible spoilers too. So, be warned. Rogue One cast member Jiang Wen revealed Donnie Yen's character, Chirrut Imwe, dies and Carrie Fisher inadvertently confirmed Han Solo's funeral for Episode VIII. The latter has been mooted for sometime.

A photo posted by John Hood (@johnhood) on

I was fortunate enough to attend several of the Celebration Stage panels, hosted by Warwick Davis, with thanks to my best friend. Anthony Daniels, Without Protocol, Carrie Fisher: The Princess Diaries and the Future Filmmaker Discussion & Closing Ceremony. John Boyega (Finn), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Alden Ehrenreich (young Han Solo) on stage with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and directors Rian Johnson (Episode VIII), Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (untitled Han Solo movie) to rapturous applause and a standing ovation! No, you're crying.

A photo posted by John Hood (@johnhood) on

Serendipitous encounters with friends old and new, humour, duels with the dark side, a kiss from a princess, a hug from a Jedi and tears of joy. It's not everyday you meet childhood heroes who turn out to be amazing in person.

A photo posted by John Hood (@johnhood) on

The Force was (very) strong with this one. More please.

Were you at Star Wars Celebration Europe? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Star Wars Celebration Europe to be live streamed

In just over a week Star Wars Celebration Europe begins at the ExCeL, London, and the holiday season will come early for thousands of geeks (including myself).

Fans unable to attend a galaxy far, far away... The Star Wars Show will live stream the official 3-day event with celebrity guests, interviews with Star Wars creators, and panels all weekend, hosted by Andi Gutierrez and Peter Townley. This is the second year Star Wars Celebration has been live streamed.

I'll be covering Star Wars Celebration on this blog, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story trailer to air on ABC

An ABC listing confirms a 3-minute trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be broadcast on 15th July. That's according to Making Star Wars.

This coincides with Star Wars Celebration Europe where director Gareth Edwards and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy will headline a Rogue One panel. It's expected the new trailer will premiere during the event.

Despite the much-publicised reshoots, which isn't unique to this movie, I can't wait to see Darth Vader back on the big screen this December.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The Force is still strong with LEGO Star Wars

Last summer TT Games' LEGO Jurassic World reinvigorated a beloved movie tie-in franchise in much the same way as its movie inspiration brought aging dinosaurs back into the lives of the touch screen generation.

Now LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens builds (pun intended) on the success of a rejuvenated Star Wars saga.

Like its blockbusting silver screen counterpart. The Force Awakens LEGO videogame trades on a heavy dose of nostalgia and your enjoyment will be predicated on how eager you're prepared to embrace it. Spoiler! I loved JJ Abrams' space opera and that translates to this witty wonder too.

It's a faithful adaptation of The Force Awakens unlike EA's Star Wars Battlefront, which was released in the lead up to the Star Wars sequel last December. Battlefront features Jakku, but decades before the events of the movie. I was a critic of Star Wars Battlefront at launch and promised myself I wouldn't buy it! Now it's the game I play the most. Because PEW! PEW! PEW!

TT Games' latest LEGO opus opens during the climactic Battle of Endor from Return of the Jedi! What? I hear you cry. Well, it's a prologue reprising LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. However, there's a fun boss battle with Emperor Palpatine before fans embark on an adventure with new heroes Rey and Finn as they search for Luke Skywalker with the villainous Kylo Ren and First Order in deadly pursuit.

The game sticks to a tried and tested formula of collecting studs and gold bricks, which detractors might argue skews too young for seasoned gamers. However, you'll be missing out on gaming's equivalent of PIXAR and developer TT Games has added a new cover system mechanic that results in spectacular skirmishes akin to Gears of War. Dogfights evoke the adrenalin-filled Rogue Squadron. TT Games should be hired to reboot the feted series.

The original cast of The Force Awakens have recorded additional dialogue and it's a hoot! For example Harrison Ford requests "Wookie cookies" for his Millennium Falcon co-pilot pal, Chewie, and there's a satirical nod to Ford's on set injury. John Williams' soundtrack is deftly mixed into proceedings without ever being jarring.

The Force Awakens narrative is stretched to breaking point, even with the inclusion of short stories taken from the wider Star Wars universe including how C-3PO ended up with that red arm, and may have been better suited to LEGO Dimensions if Disney Infinity had been mothballed sooner. However, that's churlish given how much fun this is. It's the closest to a fully open world game, populated by delightful minifigures, we've seen.

A treat for LEGO and Star Wars fans alike. It's the perfect time to revisit The Force Awakens. That's no mean feat for a franchise that began not so long ago in 2005.

**** out of *****

Special thanks to WB Games for providing a PS4 review code.